Mahatma Gandhi is known for making simplicity his sophistication.  But he possessed and adored a small statue of ‘The Three Wise Monkeys’, which is a visual metaphor for the famous proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. Today, most Indians know this symbolic representation as Gandhiji’s Three Monkeys. You probably have seen them as emojis too. But do you know who these three mystic apes are?

The Three Monkeys sculpted at Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram

The maxim has its origin in Japan. The three monkeys are called :

Mizaru: 🙈 ( Thesee no evil’ monkey)

Kikazaru:🙉 (The ‘hear no evil’ monkey)

Iwazaru:🙊 (The ‘ speak no evil’ monkey )

There are several interpretations of this proverb, the most famous being the need to filter what we see, listen and speak. Gandhi, being an exponent of ahimsa, probably considered the symbolism to be a reminder of non-violence not just in our actions, but also in our thoughts and words too.

But then, why monkeys?

Apparently, ‘-zaru’, which is a negative conjugation of the three verbs (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) , matches ‘saru’ meaning monkey in Japanese. Also, monkey is an extremely important animal in Asian culture, notably in Shintoism (traditional religion of Japan).

But I have another interpretation. Supposing Darwin is right (well..modern science says so), then we came from monkeys. We know how intelligent apes are. Yet, what distinguishes man from monkey (and rest of the creatures on earth) is common sense, or rather, moral sense. The wisdom to distinguish the right from the wrong. And not just distinguish them, but also follow what is right. In other words, when the monkey sees no evil, hears no evil and speaks no evil (and does no evil too, which is represented by a fourth monkey, supposedly), thus restraining from animalistic instincts, he evolves into the wise human.

I wonder how many ‘humans’ are out there…

We don’t live in a planet of men. We live in a planet of apes.

-Surya

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